Python C API: WindowsError after creating some number of PyObjects


I've been having an issue getting the Python C API to not give me errors.

Background: I've been using ctypes to run native code (C++) for a while, but until now I had never actually done anything specific with the Python C API. I had mostly just been passing in structs from Python and filling them from C++. The way I was using structs was becoming cumbersome, so I decided I would try creating Python objects directly in C++ and just pass them back to my Python script.

Code: I have a DLL (Foo.dll) with only one function:

#define N 223
__declspec(dllexport) void Bar(void)
    std::cout << "Bar" << std::endl;

    for (int i = 0; i < N; ++i)
        auto list = PyList_New(0);
        std::cout << "Created: " << i << std::endl;

And then I have the Python script I'm running:

import ctypes as C
dll = r"C:\path\to\dll\Foo.dll"
Foo = C.CDLL(dll)
# lists = [[] for _ in range(0)]
print "Done."

What happens: If I define N in the above DLL to be 222 or below, the code works fine (except for the memory leak, but that isn't the problem).

If I uncomment the //Py_DECREF(list) line, the code works fine.

However, with the above code, I get this:

Created: 0
Created: 1
Created: 2
...(omitted for your sake)
Created: 219
Created: 220
Created: 221
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "C:\path_to_script\", line 9, in <module>
WindowsError: exception: access violation reading 0x00000028

In fact, I get this same result with dictionaries, lists, tuples and so on. I get the same result if I create a list and then append empty sublists to that list.

What's weirder, every list that I make from within the actual Python script will decrease the number of lists the DLL can make before getting this windows error.

Weirder still, if I make more than 222 lists in my python script, then the DLL won't encounter this error until it's created something like 720 more lists.

**Other details: **

  • Windows 10
  • Using the Anaconda2 32-bit Python 2.7 distribution
  • (Using Python.h and python27.lib from that distribution
  • python.exe --version: 2.7.13 :: Anaconda custom (32-bit)
  • Creating DLL with Visual Studio 2017

As long as I don't create many PyObjects from my C++ code, everything seems to work fine. I can pass PyObjects to and from the Python code and it works fine.. until I've created "too many" of the objects from within my C++ code.

What is going on?

asked on Stack Overflow Nov 15, 2017 by Aaron

1 Answer


From the documentation for CDLL:

The Python global interpreter lock is released before calling any function exported by these libraries, and reacquired afterwards.

This makes it unsafe to use Python C API code. Exactly how it fails is unpredictable, as you are finding. I'd guess it has to do with if the allocation triggers a run of the garbage collector, but I don't think it's worth spending too much time trying to work out the exact cause.

There's (at least) two solutions to chose from:

  1. Use ctypes.PyDLL (which the documentation notes is like CDLL except that it does not release the GIL)
  2. Reacquire the GIL within your C++ code - an easy way to do this is:

    auto state = PyGILState_Ensure();
    // C++ code requiring GIL - probably your entire loop
answered on Stack Overflow Nov 15, 2017 by DavidW

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